Photo: Canada and the Kyoto Protocol

Parliament. (Credit:irschick via Flickr.)

On February 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol officially entered into force, marking an important step forward in the fight against climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol is a historic milestone. It is the first and only binding international agreement that sets targets to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Measures to fight climate change — which also involve using less energy — will improve public health, create new jobs and cut energy costs. Kyoto and Beyond: The Low-Emission Path to Innovation and Efficiency shows how Canada can dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, with massive savings in energy bills.

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Studies show that implementing the Kyoto Protocol would stimulate the hi-tech and construction industries, create jobs, reduce health-care costs from air pollution and help protect our ecosystems (see The Bottom Line on Kyoto: Economic Benefits of Canadian Action). Some far-sighted industries are already using technologies and policies to reduce emissions even more rapidly than the Protocol requires.

The previous government of Canada developed a plan to meet our Kyoto targets, which included mandatory emissions cuts for large factories and power plants; a voluntary agreement with automakers to improve fuel efficiency in Canadian vehicles; a climate fund to purchase emission reduction credits from Canada and abroad; and a partnership fund to assist provinces and municipalities in making investments in infrastructure projects that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The plan, contrary to advice from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Canada's Commissioner of the Environment, relied too heavily on incentives and voluntary initiatives. Nonetheless, the government never got the chance to implement or improve the plan before it lost the election in January 2006.

The current government has, unfortunately, moved Canada backwards on climate change. It announced that it would not even try to meet its Kyoto targets, and it reduced funding for Canada's climate change plan and cut most of Canada's climate change programs, including successful programs like the Wind Power Production Incentive, which subsidizes the installation of wind power, and Energuide for Houses, which gives incentives for Canadians to make their homes more energy efficient.

In December of 2011, the government of Canada became the first nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Rather than working together with other nations to negotiate a more effective, follow-up agreement, Canada has elected to abandon the process. The government has instead adopted a GHG reduction target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, This is much weaker than Canada's previous Kyoto commitment and sends the unfortunate message to the rest of the world that one of the top-ten global climate change polluters has pulled back from its efforts to reduce emissions.

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